Semi-Rant RE: Race, Gender and the Problem with “Undercover” Reporting

Enemy of the People

By Tracie McMillan

via Twitter • May 2, 2017

  1. Thrilled to have been in conversation w/ @UCBerkeleyIRP @Shane_Bauer @sukisworld @ailsachang @jamesjonestv at #LoganSymposium2017. But…
  2. Also wish we dug deeper about complexities re: race/gender w/ @UCBerkeleyIRP. Tagging some thoughts with #LoganSymposium2017.
    • Typically, “undercover” = swashbuckling white dude (SWD) doing something dangerous. Is there a role for this kind of work? Sure.
    • But SWD-as-default makes it seem like SWD=“authentic” truthteller. Both “white” and “dude” parts are crucial.
  3. RE: WHITE – White as default sets up white people as the only folks who can objectively, reliably explain the world. #LoganSymposium2017
    • Both @Shane_Bauer and I were white people “undercover” in worlds that are mostly POC. I rarely get asked about race. But it was key.
    • Part of what made my project marketable was my being a white, educated person. I heard this clearly in agent/pub/editor meetings.
    • Echoes what @connie_walker mentioned re:early pitches on murders of indigenous women, that it was “just another poor Indian” story.
    • @SukisWorld was first, only American to report at length from inside North Korea. Yet reviewers said she “went home”—not that she reported.
    • Let’s be clear: This is not cool. Yes, writers, reporters translate the world for their readers.
    • But if white folks are the only translators, it follows that whites are the only audience. THIS IS A BAD IDEA in a multiracial democracy.
  4. RE: DUDE PT. 1 – Part of why I went undercover was b/c women are almost entirely absent from undercover reporting. #LoganSymposium2017
    • This means our most “authentic” stories are male ones. It erases women from our understanding of the world.
    • Example: I worked in Applebees kitchen, thinking I could give as good as I got, talk dirty, keep up w/drinking, i.e. be one of the boys.
    • A dude does that, it’s good fun. When I did that, I got assaulted. This is a reality for women in industry, esp working class, nonwhite.
  5. RE: DUDE PT. 2 Women who go undercover are seen as suspect, dishonest, profiteering. Men who do are brave, dedicated. #LoganSymposium2017
    • See this in @sukisworld discussion of response to her work. Publishers forced her to call work memoir + she got criticized for profiting off her work.
    • I saw this too: Early responses were that I was “pretending,” wealthy (ICYMI: no), should have given $ to my subjects, an “authorette.”
    • Assumption is that women cannot be trusted; women should be selfless; women aren’t reporters; women are not supposed to be talking.
    • In case this needs to be white-male-verified: @Shane_Bauer confirmed on panel that he never hears this stuff.
    • Again: REALLY BAD IDEA in a democracy that includes women.
  6. Also, ICYMI: Not just a problem in undercover work. Has relevance across media, especially legacy pubs/platforms. #LoganSymposium2017

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